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Arnold Brecht on the November Revolution (Retrospective Account, 1966)

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At the same trial Scheidemann said: “We did not prepare a revolution, we did not want a revolution, but by simply following requests [to take over the government] and finally from our own sense of responsibility too, we were faced with the question of what we ought to do in this moment of terrible misery for our nation?”

The meeting with Groener was on November 6. It became ever more difficult to restrain the masses in Berlin, impressed as they were by the events on the coast and their spread to the south and west. On November 7, therefore, the Social Democrats sent their ultimatum to the federal government—that is, to Prince Max and his Cabinet—with the (in itself legal) announcement that they would withdraw their representatives from the Cabinet and from the government departments, if the abdication was not received by midday, November 8. The reason given: the workers would otherwise desert and go over to the Independents and Spartacists.

Scheidemann was willing to remain in the government until the conclusion of the armistice, so that a government which was able to negotiate would exist. The Socialist leaders, therefore, asked the workers to be patient “for a few more hours.” However, when on the evening of November 8 the Kaiser had not abdicated, the Social Democratic members withdrew from the government. On the morning of the 9th they issued the order to strike: “Out of the factories!”

Shortly before midday, November 9, Prince Max announced the abdication, on the basis of a telephone communication from Headquarters that “the decision had been made and had only to be formulated.” Not until after publication did news from Headquarters arrive that the Kaiser had been willing to abdicate only as Kaiser and not as King of Prussia. Prince Max had taken action to prevent the agitated crowds from going over to the Independents and Spartacists and thus, if possible, to avoid violent revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy. On Simons’ advice, in a bold but pertinent interpretation of his historical role at this hour, Prince Max now transferred the duties of Chancellor to Friedrich Ebert as the leader of the largest party in the Reichstag. “I enjoin the German Reich on you,” he said. Ebert replied: “I have given two sons for this Reich.” Prince Max took his leave of the officials in the Chancellery, asked them to transfer their loyal services to Ebert, and left Berlin.

Source of English translation: Arnold Brecht, The Political Education of Arnold Brecht, An Autobiography 1884-1970. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970, pp. 108-10.

Source of original German text: Arnold Brecht, Aus nächster Nähe, Lebenserinnerungen 1884-1927. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1966, pp. 187-89.

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